23 July 2019
Msgr. John E. Kozar welcomes the Rev. Ziad Hillal to CNEWA's New York offices.
We received a visit from an old friend this afternoon: the Rev. Ziad Hillal, S.J.
Readers may remember that Father Ziad wrote a Letter from Syria printed in ONE magazine in 2013, describing in vivid detail the humanitarian efforts of his Jesuit community, working (with support from CNEWA’s donors) to help Syria’s children who were trapped in the nightmare of the country’s civil war:
Caring for more than 3,000 displaced families and providing support to 2,000 children who need continuous care on all levels is indescribably heavy. And until now, few organizations have assisted us with our mission. I still remember how CNEWA took the initiative at the beginning of the harsh winter and provided 1,000 families with winter kits to help the children in our schools survive the cold and the poor housing conditions.
We have had some difficult cases of children who have lost one or both of their parents. One such child is a 12-year-old whom I will call “Rita.” Her father was shot in the head and has been in a coma since last year; her mother had a nervous breakdown and is being treated in a specialized center. Rita is currently living with her aunt, who is also displaced. Rita refuses to go back to school and she isolates herself from the world. The Sisters of the Good Shepherd, along with a psychologist, are trying to support her morally and to assist her in her studies at home. However, she has thus far rejected these efforts to help her.
Maybe our efforts will not be enough to satisfy the huge needs of the displaced families and to relieve their sufferings. But what we are trying to do is simply shine a small spot of light on the shadow of violence.
Father Ziad left Syria in 2016. His ministry since then has taken him to Greece — where he worked with the Jesuit Relief Services to help refugees — and to France, where he is now living and has published a book about his experiences.
His life has been touched by tragedy in many ways. One close colleague, the Rev. Frans Van Der Lugt, S.J. was brutally killed in Homs in 2014; another, the Rev. Jacques Mourad, was kidnapped by ISIS and eventually released in November 2015. A third priest, the Rev. Paolo Dall’Oglio, was kidnapped in 2013 and is still being held. His whereabouts are unknown.
Despite this, Father Ziad remains a figure of unflinching hope and zeal — and one who believes the greatest cause for his beleaguered and embattled homeland is the quest for peace.
“The message,” he said, ”is we have to stop the war in Syria. Immediately. To protect first the presence of our church and our people. The Christian people are the bridge between the West and the Middle East. We are also like a bridge between Sunnis and Shiites. And now if we lose our presence, I am afraid one day I will go to Syria, maybe my nieces or nephews will go there and say, our parents were in this church. It was our church but now we have nothing there. Only the stories. I am afraid for that.”
As he put it: “The only message for me is to stop the war in Syria and have the peace. If not, we will only lose again and again.”
You can watch a video we produced about his work below. Please keep him and all those working on behalf of victims of war and terror in your prayers.
23 July 2019
Syriac Catholic Archbishop John Jihad Battah, newly named to Damascus, Syria, will be installed as archbishop on 28 July 2019. He is pictured on 15 July in the Church of the Monastery of Our Lady of Deliverance in Harissa, Lebanon. (photo: CNS/courtesy Syriac Catholic Patriarchate)
After eight years of war, the faithful in Damascus, Syria, are “so tired,” said their new bishop, Syriac Catholic Archbishop John Jihad Battah. Nevertheless, he is returning to his birthplace with enthusiasm.
“I want to help the people, to give them hope to stay in their country,” Archbishop Battah told Catholic News Service ahead of his episcopal ordination in Damascus on 28 July.
“In all my missions, in Italy, in Lebanon, I was obeying the call of the church. This is the first time I feel great joy and happiness in a new mission, to be going back to Syria,” the 63-year-old archbishop said. He served in Lebanon for the last eight years as bishop for the patriarchal diocese of Beirut and previously in Rome for seven years.
“The most important thing is to take care of the people,” Archbishop Battah said of his new mission. His motto as archbishop is Luke 22:27: “I am among you as the one who serves.”
Damascus did not experience a mass exodus like in war-torn dioceses such as Aleppo. In the Syriac Catholic Archdiocese of Damascus, there are about 1,000 families, compared to about 1,200 families before the war, the archbishop said.
However, the sanctions against Syria are taking a toll on the Syrian people.
“It’s leading people to leave the country to search for a better future,” he stressed.
“The economic situation is very bad. Everyone is in need now,” he said. The cost of basic necessities has skyrocketed, and medicine is very expensive. “People are dying from lack of medicine.”
“We need prayers for the removal of sanctions. If the sanctions are removed, the people can at least live with dignity,” Archbishop Battah said.
The government in Syria “is a positive government that respects all religions,” Archbishop Battah noted.
He cited the Syriac Catholic youth gathering in Damascus in early July, when Syrian President Bashar Assad visited with the more than 200 young people for three hours, answering their questions in an open forum.
Archbishop Battah said his “main mission is to give Christians hope in the future, to stay in their country.”
“My message to the West is to help the Christians in the Middle East to stay in their homelands. Their presence is vital,” the archbishop said, noting that Christians are an “equilibrium, a bridge between all the religions.”
“The Christians are the light of the world. The light should stay in the Middle East,” Archbishop Battah said.
23 July 2019
Tags: Lebanon Syriac Catholic Church
Airstrikes on a busy Syrian market killed dozens of people on Monday, turning buildings into piles of rubble. (video: Al Jazeera/YouTube)
At least 27 killed in attack on Syrian market (AP) Multiple airstrikes hit a busy market in a rebel-controlled town in northwestern Syria on Monday, killing at least 27 people and turning several buildings into piles of rubble, according to opposition activists and a war monitor. Shortly after the strikes, state media said rebels shelled a government-held village, killing seven…
Lynching attacks worry church leaders in India (UCANews.com) Church leaders in India have concerns of further civilian unrest after mob attacks killed eight people in three separate incidents over the weekend. In the latest incident on 20 July, a group of more than 10 men beat and killed four people — two men and two women — in the Gumla district of Jharkhand state. The four deceased, all aged between 60 and 65, came from three different families…
Israel begins tearing down Palestine housing (The New York Times) Israeli equipment arrived before dawn on Monday and began clawing at the first of 10 Palestinian apartment blocks that were scheduled for demolition because the government said they were built too close to its security barrier in a Palestinian area of the West Bank abutting Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem…
Sri Lanka’s bombed church re-consecrated (Vatican News) A Catholic church north of the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, was re-consecrated on Sunday, three months after it was badly damaged in a string of suicide bombings on Easter Sunday that rocked the Indian island nation. St Sebastian’s Church in Katuwapitiya, Negombo city, unveiled a stone monument inscribed with the names of 114 people who were killed in the 21 April attack, during the re-consecration ceremony that included Holy Mass…
22 July 2019
Tags: Syria India Palestine Persecution
Salbi makes kufta with bulgur, a variant of the dish brought to Armenia by Syrian-Armenians. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)
In the July 2019 edition of ONE, Gohar Abrahamyan reports on Syrian refugees who have found a new home in Armenia. The author offers some additional reflections below.
Writing about people who have lived through war, and suffering inconsolable pain and loss, is difficult.
It is even harder when the story involves the Armenians living in Syria, recalling the reason why the Armenians found themselves in Syria to begin with. It was in 1915, when the leaders of Ottoman Turkey decided to ”cleanse” that part of their empire of Christian Armenians living in their historical homeland for centuries. What followed were massacres, mass killings, rapes and murders that claimed the lives of 1.5 million Armenians. Those who survived starvation in the desert were able to start over in Syria and Lebanon.
A century later, more war and violence and targeted attacks had them fleeing once again.
I keep replaying this tragic history in my mind, filled with indignation at the historical injustice, as I meet just a few of the 20,000 Syrian Armenians forced to leave their homes because of the war.
I realize anew: no matter how terrible the war is, it does not kill what makes us human. Love and kindness are unconquerable.
One of those I meet during my visit is a woman named Salbi.
She used to work as a cook. In Syria, she earned a living to support her 7-year-old son. She played with him, taught him how to read and write.
Then, the hopes for the future were scattered by roaring explosions, and these people fled with the dust of the ruined buildings. They became exiles.
”It was November of 2012,” Salbi remembers, “and I said that we would spend the New Year in Armenia and then would go back; see how many New Years we have spent?” Her face reveals her sorrow over what was lost. “Before coming here, I had bought two pairs of shoes for my son, one pair was black and the other one was coffee-colored. I said we would take only one pair with us, and the other he would wear after we come back. Since then, how many pairs of shoes has he worn out? But I am still thinking, with all my heart, about those shoes.” She can’t forget what she left behind. “My dowry with the tablecloth embroidered by my mom, the childhood photos of my son were left there. All the things from my baby’s childhood stayed there. They are irreplaceable.”
I am crying. Salbi collapses. George, Salbi’s 14-year-old son, brings his mother some water, then hugs her and with his hand wipes away the tears on his mother’s wrinkled cheeks.
Both of them have health problems, both of them are weak; but, for now, they are so strong with each other. They are struggling together, arguing, laughing, crying together, bound together by a new life in Armenia.
Mother and son hug each other; they are far from their home, far from their dear things. But they know that they have what matters.
They have life. They have each other. That is their consolation.
That is their hope.
Read more about how Hope Takes Root in the current edition of ONE.
22 July 2019
Tags: Syria Refugees Armenia
One of the windows of Notre Dame Cathedral is seen on 17 July 2019, three months after a fire destroyed much of the church’s wooden structure in Paris.
(photo: CNS/Stephane de Sakutin, pool via Reuters)
22 July 2019
A member of the White Helmets, also known as the Syria Civil Defense, uses a saw on rubble after an airstrike in Idlib, Syria, on 16 July 2019. Pope Francis urged Syrian President Bashar Assad to put an end to his nation's eight-year-long conflict and seek reconciliation for the good of the country and its vulnerable people. (photo: CNS/White Helmets, social media via Reuters)
Pope writes Syrian president, calling for peace (CNS) Pope Francis urged Syrian President Bashar Assad to put an end to his country’s eight-year-long conflict and seek reconciliation for the good of the nation and its vulnerable people. ”The Holy Father asks the president to do everything possible to put an end to this humanitarian catastrophe, in order to protect the defenseless population, especially those who are most vulnerable, in respect for international humanitarian law,” said Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state…
Death toll from flood rising in India (Al Jazeera) The death toll in India continues to rise after flooding and landslides ravaged several parts of the country, forcing tens of thousands of people from their homes and millions more affected. At least 142 people have died in two Indian states, Assam and Bihar, since monsoon flooding began earlier this month…
Ukraine votes amid concerns over corruption (Vatican News) Sunday’s parliamentary election was overshadowed by mounting concerns about financial wrongdoing by influential figures ranging from powerful business leaders to politicians, the police and even judges…
Restoring churches seen as key to have Christians return to Middle East (CNS) Speakers at a conference last week in Washington argued that restoring churches in violence-plagued sections of the Middle East will help foster the return of Christians who fled the strife, as well as introduce greater stability to the region. ”Billions of dollars will be needed to reconstruct and rehabilitate the holy places in Syria,” said Archimandrite Alexi Chehadeh, a member of the ecumenical relations department of the Greek Orthodox Church…
At least 17 killed in violence in Ethiopia (Al Jazeera) At least 17 people have been killed in clashes between Ethiopian security forces and activists seeking a new autonomous region for their Sidama ethnic group, according to a local official and hospital authorities. A local district official told Reuters news agency on Saturday that at least 13 people were killed in a town near Hawassa city, 275 kilometers [about 170 miles] south of the capital Addis Ababa, while hospital authorities said on Friday that four protesters had died of gunshot wounds in the city itself…
19 July 2019
Tags: Syria India Pope Francis Ukraine
Sister Nabila Saleh, principal of the Rosary Sisters School in Gaza, checks in with students. Read her Letter from Gaza, about life with the students, in the July 2019 edition of ONE. (photo: Ali Hassan)
19 July 2019
Tags: Gaza Strip/West Bank
Heavy rains continue to lash Kerala and other parts of India, as the monsoon gains strength.
(video: Al Jazeera/YouTube)
Heavy rains lash Kerala; monsoon gains strength (India Today) Heavy rains lashed several parts of Kerala for the second day Friday as the southwest monsoon intensified in the state after a period of lull. According to the India Meteorological Department website, some places in Kozhikode and Idukki districts, where a red alert has been sounded, recorded around 14 cm rainfall (about 5 inches) in the past 24 hours ended at 8.30 am Friday…
Iran says U.S. may have shot down drone by mistake (USA TODAY) Iran denied Friday it lost a drone in the Strait of Hormuz after the United States said it had “destroyed” an Iranian drone that was threatening a U.S. ship. ”We have not lost any drone in the Strait of Hormuz nor anywhere else. I am worried that USS Boxer has shot down their own UAS (Unmanned Aerial System) by mistake!,” Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said on Twitter…
Iraqi Christians facing deportation express sense of betrayal (The Guardian) Yousuf is one of over 1,400 Iraqi nationals who the Trump administration is attempting to deport. Most of those are Chaldean — Iraqi Catholics — living in metro Detroit, which holds the world’s largest Chaldean population outside of Iraq. The administration’s deportation efforts are viewed by many Chaldeans as a shocking “betrayal”, not least because many in the community have been enthusiastic supporters of Trump and voted for him in large numbers in 2016…
Church seeks probe into Mumbai building collapse (UCANews.com) Catholics in India’s commercial hub of Mumbai have joined demands for an official inquiry into the collapse of a four-story building that killed at least 10 people. The century-old building in the rain-soaked city collapsed on the morning of 16 July, trapping scores of residents under debris. Mumbai, a western city of some 20 million people, has had several British colonial buildings collapse in recent years…
Miniature Russian icons disappearing (The New York Times) With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the renaissance of the Russian Orthodox Church revived icon painting. It is miniature art now facing extinction…
18 July 2019
Tags: India Iraqi Christians Kerala Russian Orthodox Church Chaldeans
People gather at the site of a car bomb blast outside the Syriac Orthodox Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Qamishli, Syria, on 11 July 2019. At least 11 people were injured in the blast during evening services. It was unclear who was responsible for the attack.
(photo: CNS/Rodi Said, Reuters)
Syriac Christians in northeastern Syria are calling on the United States to help defend them against a buildup of Turkish troops along the border, fearing they will be overrun and suffer the same fate as Afrin, where jihadist forces pushed out inhabitants last year.
The appeal by the U.S.-backed Christian Syriac Military Council, made available to Catholic News Service, warns of a possible Turkish attack on the eastern Euphrates River region in Syria. It said it fears the onslaught could affect thousands of Christians who live in Syria’s northeast, and it urges Washington to intervene.
The military council forms part of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces responsible for driving out Islamic State militants from Syria, while defending Syriac Christians from ISIS fighters.
About 700,000 Syrian Christians fled to Europe due to Islamic State attacks during Syria’s eight-year war.
Now, they fear a Turkish military incursion into the area east of the Euphrates River, which would again displace thousands of Christians who live in villages and towns along the Syrian-Turkish border.
“Turkey has been amassing troops at Ras al-Ayn, where there is no U.S. military presence,” Syriac Christian political leader Bassam Ishak told CNS by phone.
“But anywhere these troops come inside northeast Syria will be tragic, like in Afrin,” said Ishak, who heads the Syriac National Council. A graduate of The Catholic University of America in Washington, he is also a member of the political bureau of the Syrian Democratic Council.
“The safe zone Turkey has proposed is 32 kilometers (20 miles) deep. It’s in these areas where Kurds and Christians live. If Turkish forces come in, the expectation is that they will push out the inhabitants and turn the region over to extremist jihadist groups that they support, just like they did in Afrin a year ago,” he said.
Turkish troops and their rebel allies, including Islamic State and al-Qaida-linked fighters, swept into the northwest Syrian town of Afrin in March 2018, scattering its mainly Kurdish inhabitants, some of them Christian converts, and thousands of internally displaced Syrians from other parts of the country seeking shelter. Afrin had been one of the only areas virtually unaffected by the war. Turkey said it wanted to root out Kurdish militants.
Military Council member Aram Hanna told Kurdistan 24 TV that he hopes a U.S.-led coalition would protect northeast Syria because Islamic State “sleeper cells still pose a threat.”
Pope Francis has called Syria’s war the worst humanitarian disaster after World War II.
Ishak and Syrian religious leaders like Chaldean Catholic Father Samir Kanoon of Qamishli said the region’s inhabitants view Turkey as an enemy of Christians due to past history. Syriacs and other Christians living in Turkey were caught up in the 1915 Ottoman Empire’s genocide of Armenian Christians, which saw 1.5 million Armenians killed.
“Because of the massacres, Christians were forced to escape from Turkey, and this is where they fled, to northeastern Syria and Aleppo. Turkey is viewed by many as the enemy of Christians,” Father Kanoon told CNS earlier.
Also, “Syriac Christians and many of the Kurds who live in northeast Syria are the grandchildren and descendants of those who fled oppression and massacres in Turkey and fled to this area, considered the last safe zone from the Turks. Turkey, in their minds, is the source of terrorism,” Ishak told CNS.
Ishak drew attention to continuing instability in the area. On 11 July, three explosions took place in the northeast city of Hassakeh and, later that day, another explosion targeted the Syriac Orthodox Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Qamishli during the evening services, injuring about 11 people. It was unclear who was responsible for the attack.
“The church is located in an area within the control of the Syrian regime, but a truck was able to come and park outside the church,” Ishak said. “Someone detonated it from afar. It exploded just five minutes before the end of the Mass. If the blast happened 10 or 15 minutes later, when the people were leaving the church, it would have been a catastrophe.”
Lauren Homer, a Washington, D.C.-based international human rights lawyer familiar with the situation, called the Turkish troop amassing “puzzling, coming so soon after the Turks deployed Russian missiles near their southern border -- almost ensuring additional U.S. sanctions.”
Homer spoke to CNS during the U.S. State Department Ministerial on Religious Freedom taking place in mid-July in Washington.
She questioned whether Turkey is making “a direct challenge and threat to the U.S. and its global coalition partner troops present in Tel Abyad” or an “imminent threat to follow through on its long-threatened invasion of the entire Democratic Self-Administration” present in the region.
Syrian Christians and Kurds making up the self-administration have permitted religious freedom choices to all the inhabitants.
Homer, too, believes that if Turkey does invade northeast Syria, “it will be a repeat of Afrin in any territory they seize, bringing targeted genocide, ethnic cleansing, rapes and trafficking of women.”
18 July 2019
Monsoon floods this week have left millions homeless in India. (video: SBS Australia/YouTube)
Church groups join rush to help India flood victims (UCANews.com) Church groups in India’s Assam state have stepped up their humanitarian efforts after catastrophic floods wreaked havoc, leaving 15 people dead and an estimated 4.6 million homeless. More than 4,157 villages in 30 districts are submerged in the northeastern state as rains continue unabated, raising the water level of the Brahmaputra River above the danger level…
As Ethiopia works for reform, Church tries to support people in many ways (CNS) The Catholic Church in Ethiopia is leading peace and reconciliation efforts while it does what it can to help the millions of people who have fled their homes in an upsurge in communal violence. ”The Church is in a good position to help and the Catholic leadership is there,” Argaw Fantu, regional director for Catholic Near East Welfare Association, said in a 15 July interview from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital…
What’s the future of Syrian refugees in Turkey? (The New York Times) Of the nearly 3.6 million Syrians in Turkey, only about 100,000 live in camps close to the Turkish-Syrian border, the majority in Turkish cities and towns. Around half a million live in Istanbul. But the Turkish economy is struggling and the unemployment rate stands at 13 percent. Turks in socially and economically-stressed districts increasingly believe that the refugees are competing for their jobs and that the government grants them more privileges…
Pope makes appointments to Holy See press office (Vatican News) Pope Francis on Thursday appointed a new Director of the Holy See Press Office. British-born Matteo Bruni is the new spokesperson of the Holy See, effective on 22 July…
Tags: Syria India Ethiopia Vatican